A claustrophobic family drama still has room for surprises.
BY ELLEN WERNECKE
Leo Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with the words, “Happy families are all alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” By now it’s a trite quotation but it deserves to be repeated for every dysfunctional family snapshot that forgets this maxim. This Jordanian-American apartment drama written by Betty Shamieh, though never escaping the confines of this immigrant home, still manages to be original in putting the experiences of one family under the microscope.
All is not well in this late-‘80s Detroit household, but teasing out its problems consumes the bulk of Roar. Lebanese immigrants Karema (Maya Serhan) and Ahmed (Al Nazemian) hardly see each other between their long days of running a store and keeping up the apartment complex they also own. Their daughter Irene (Billie Alexopoulos) is an indifferent student but a promising singer, vainly hoping for that important callback from a record company executive. (So far, so standard.) Then Karema’s sister Hala arrives from Kuwait, dropping like an extravagantly gesturing bomb over the nuclear family. From then on, everything changes.
Shot through with bittersweet observations of the well-trod American immigrant experience, Roar is nonetheless successful because it differentiates between the problems plaguing this particular family and all the families like it. Even the third-act revelation about Karema and Hala’s early life in Jordan, which arrives long overdue, doesn’t seem clichéd because it unfolds in such a believable way. Director Elaine Molinaro develops Shamieh’s expository information as if we were sitting down to dinner with family; when we are finally separated from these characters, we ache to discover what goes on after the play ends. (Alexopoulos is particularly poignant as the teenage Irene, caught in the family maelstrom when she’s having enough trouble deciding whether to rebel or do her duty towards her parents.)
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.